Friday, June 05, 2009

Cliffs and Rocks and Smoked Salmon

Driving in another country is always exciting as you navigate unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar vehicle. Doing so in a country where you are also driving in the lane that usually contains oncoming traffic is unsettling.

Being passed, a high speed, on your right hand side by traffic coming in the other direction (when usually all that is at your right is the passenger who is giving you grief for missing the turn) is unnerving. Most harrowing is doing all this on very narrow roads that are lined with rock walls covered with hedges. Sometimes those rock walls are all that is between you and a drop down into the sea. This is a vacation?

Fortunately, I never had to drive while we were in Ireland. Sweetie quickly figured out how to tell if we were too close to the rock walls without actually having to run into them, and learned to ignore those folks swooping by on his right. Occasionally I had to remind him that he was in the wrong lane and might want to move into the left lane, but overall he was stellar! My job was to navigate and figure out which road on the roundabout would take us where we were going. Honestly, the signs were mostly really good, so it wasn't that difficult. Overall it was fun to explore on our own instead of taking tours and it was really exhausting. That meant more time on foot exploring towns and early nights.

On our first full day in Ireland we traveled northwest to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, standard fare on most tours of this part of the country. Since we were still new at this driving on the left thing, it didn't take much encouragement for us to stop where ever something looked interesting. All of these stone crosses caught my eye.

Fairly soon we were pulling over at a small churchyard near Ennistymon and taking photos of crosses. Modern gravestones seem to often be polished granite upright slabs, but the older graves often had these beautiful Irish crosses with beautiful designs carved on them.

This is one of hundreds and hundreds of ruins, many from the time of Elizabeth I or, more often, from the time of Cromwell. The 'Roundheads' laid waste to so many churches, monasteries and friaries.

Then I fell in love with some stone....

We continued west to Lisconnor where I fell in love with a local stone. Lisconnor stone has circular patterns in it which were formed by mollusk trails eons ago when it was still mud. Over time it became stone and it is often used as flooring stone since it tends to be easily formed into even thicknesses and is long lasting. Everywhere we went after learning about it in Lisconnor I noticed the use of Lisconnor stone, often where plain slate would usually be used as paving stone.

After Lisconnor we headed up the coast to and past the Cliffs of Moher. On approaching the turnoff for the car park at the Cliffs Visitor Centre we noticed lots of people streaming across the road toward the Heritage Center, plus two tour buses turning in.

Not being in the mood for so many people, we kept driving and were able to get some views of the cliffs at a distance, from Doolin Point. The first photo in this post shows what we saw.

Some of the photos were taken by the Hand Sister a year ago when she and my Mom and Health Sister visited Ireland. They did the full Cliffs of Moher experience, including walking along the edge...brave women!

Before reaching Doolin point we took a side road to get a better view of an interesting tower (probably a private residence) and a nearby elegant newer home sporting an old fashioned thatch roof. Experienced roof thatchers are rare and can command steep fees so these kinds of roofs are for the wealthy. Kind of ironic since they used to be a Iron Age roofing form for poor people. I think this castle was near Kilconnel.

The road curved around so from the town of Doolin, another popular place for tours to stop for shopping, we were able to see back across to the castle. Doolin also has traditional music in the evening.

Doolin Point is where you can catch a boat to the Aran Islands, home of those gorgeous sweaters. It also is the beginning of where you can see the worn stone of the Burren, with almost a moonscape look to it most of the year. In the spring the wildflowers growing up in the spaces between the rocks soften it.

From Doolin Point we traveled on the the Burren Smokehouse at Lisdoonvarna for some smoked salmon...delicious and salty. They also had some nice Irish music CDs - that's where I found the one for my former office mate who has a collection of music from around the world, so it seemed right that she have some Irish dance music, too.

From there we headed inland to Kilfanora and the Burren Heritage Center. That's where we had car trouble and experienced the true spirit of the post.

Now we'll just have a cup of tea...a favorite end of the afternoon past time in Ireland.

Proper Tea

Lots of water, heated to a rolling boil
A teapot which has been preheated with hot water
1 rounded teaspoon loose tea - I love Earl Gray tea myself - for each cup, plus one 'for the pot'
sugar, milk (never cream), lemon slices
a tea strainer

Bring the water to a rolling boil. Once water is boiling, empty the hot water out of the tea pot, then add the loose tea. Pour in the boiling water, usually to about 3/4 of the capacity of the tea pot. Stir briefly. Cover with tea pot lid and let steep a few minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger the brew.

Place a tea strainer over the cup you are pouring the tea in and pour your tea. Continue with each cup you are serving. Set tea pot aside, covered. Cover the pot with a tea cosy if it's chilly and you want to keep it warm for a second cup.

Serve at once with sugar, milk and/or lemon slices. Enjoy the aroma with each sip. Repeat as needed.


  1. Lovely, LOVELY crosses. Now I know we need to go to Ireland! The land is much like the landscape here, but...somehow subtly different. It's really beautiful.

    And THANK YOU for the recipe for proper tea. I realize I have teaspoons for a reason, but am just navigating toward trying to make it "properly," (READ: so my UK friends will actually be able to drink it without giving me weird looks.)

  2. Some beautiful weather, while you were there! You were truly fortunate!

  3. Anonymous3:43 AM

    Your travel stories are wonderful, as are the pictures. These help make it easier to wait to see you. That will be soon, I hope, once you've settled in. Welcome home!!
    Love, Natasha

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed your trip.

    Ah, tea with milk. An aquired taste but it's serves you really well in cold weather.

    Looking forward to the next post. :)

  5. Tanita, Glad you like the crosses...I found them fascinating. As you can see, proper tea is pretty simple, but as you know simple is not always easy.

    Davimack, Mostly the weather was great, the rest of the time good. Can't complain at all!

    Anonymous, Will be seeing you soon with a whole lot of photos and stories, too. Glad to be home.

    Andreas, I actually horrify the Irish by leaving the milk out. Never could enjoy tea that way, possibly because as a child we had very milky tea when we were sick.